For many people, Christmas conjures up thoughts of shopping and presents, decorating and special television shows. For me, though, one of my fondest memories from my childhood and the thing I can’t wait to get to each year, is baking with my mother.
Since this is one of my favorite memories, it’s one I look forward to passing down most each year now that I have children of my own. I love to get them into the kitchen with me and help them to make cookies, cakes, and candies for everyone on their list. We usually sit down together beforehand and make out a list of who they’d like to give gifts to and then we go over our recipes and decide what all we’ll make.Sometimes people ask me what my earliest cooking memory was and I remember like it was yesterday. I was three years old, making peach crisp with my mother. When it comes to my kids, I started them out even younger!
I’ve been doing holiday baking with my kids since my son was five months old! He was so small that he couldn’t even sit up on his own, but I just couldn’t wait to make Christmas cookies with him and since it was his first Christmas, I was determined to include him somehow! So I had my husband hold my son while he sat on the kitchen counter (my son sat on the counter, not my husband) and watched me roll out the cookie dough. Then, I’d put a cookie cutter in place and gently take my son’s hand to have him press down on it to cut the cookie out. He had no idea what he was doing but he just giggled with delight each and every time!
Now that my kids are 8 and 13, there isn’t much they can’t do in terms of baking. I still handle putting the cookie sheets in and out of the oven but they have both gotten really good at gathering ingredients, measuring them out, and working the stand mixer. My daughter is a wiz with the rolling pin and wouldn’t you know it, even at 13 my son still loves to cut out the cookies. Having the two of them in the kitchen with me just fills my heart with joy, and knowing that I’m teaching them how to put their hearts into gifts, instead of just buying something from a random store, is the icing on the cookie!
I love just about everything about Christmas, even though it is a LOT of work for me. Between helping Santa, shopping and wrapping gifts, decorating the house, running all of the errands for the kids to be ready for their school Christmas programs, going to the Christmas programs, working on my favorite charity projects, getting ready and entertaining holiday company, and baking more than any other time of year, I’m most assuredly the one who works the most to bring the holiday about in our family, but I still enjoy it every bit as much.
Still, a little break in the midst of it all with the company of my friends who are also running the rat race never hurts. That’s where a girlfriends cookie exchange comes in.
We get to have a little time for ourselves, away from our family, but since we’re bringing back goodies for everyone, they’re happy to see us go!
Hint to husbands: This is a perfect time to take the kids shopping for your wife. You know, that person whose spent the last several weeks shopping for everyone else :).
To help you plan a cookie exchange party, here are a few of my tips and tricks.
- Party Planning tips:
Decide on a date as soon as possible.
- -The holiday season is the busiest time of year for many people so you want to give your guests as much notice as you can about your party, at least two weeks.
Consider a weeknight or weekend afternoon.
- A cookie exchange party doesn’t have to be very long. A simple hour and a half of visiting, coffee, and exchanging cookies can be lively and fun. Having your party on a week night might allow more of your girlfriends to come, and choosing a Saturday afternoon still gives them Saturday evening for family activities.
Stock up for a great coffee bar.
- - Holiday creamers, hot coffee, sugar, sugar alternatives, and perhaps hot cider as another alternative. By having your cookie exchange between lunch and supper, there is no need to cook since a nice afternoon coffee pick me up works just fine. When guests arrive, arrange the platters of cookies on a table and take a few from each platter to put on a sampling tray that is set by the coffee station. Ask everyone to help themselves to coffee, cookie samples, and chatting.
What kind of cookies?
- Don’t limit your exchange to just cookies! Let your guests know that they are welcome to bring cookies, brownies, and candies like fudge, haystacks, and divinity (just some examples). The point of a cookie exchange is to get together with friends and leave with a variety of holiday treats!
How much do I bake?
- This is going to depend on how many guests you plan on inviting. I generally like to allow 1/2 dozen of each type of cookie per guest. Try to consider how much baking time each guest will have to commit to and try to keep your list small with this in mind. I’d try not to invite more than 8-10 people, so everyone can bake about 4 dozen cookies or so.
Don’t forget the Cookie Platters!
- There are all sorts of cute holiday cookie platters this time of year, but my favorites to use are inexpensive food safe holiday chargers.
Over bake to fill in the gaps
- As the hostess of a cookie party, I always make more than one type of cookie and try to have an extra two or three dozen above what everyone else brings to fill in the gaps. Classic Molasses Cookies are easy to whip up and I love using Crisco baking sticks to make them even easier! Another party pleaser would be the Deluxe Triple Chocolate Cookies, which use hot cocoa mix to add even more chocolate punch to the batter!
- You can even create your own board of recipes, so have fun with it!
*Note: If you don’t bake often, make sure your baking ingredients are fresh. You might want to pick up a bag of Pillsbury’s Best All Purpose Flour to help ensure baking success. Outdated baking ingredients can ruin a cookie pretty quick.
Keep it fun by making it easy!
- Let your guests know that if they are pinched for time, buying ready made cookie dough such as Pillsbury sugar cookie dough, and baking it at home is still a fine option and everyone will enjoy their addition. There are all sorts of ways to get creative with store bought cookie dough, too! Make colored icing, get creative with cookie dough by adding sprinkles, or by making peanut butter kiss cookies by gently pressing a hershey’s kiss in the middle of a peanut butter cookie right as it comes out of the oven. Buy sugar cookie dough and roll it out to cut into christmas shapes, etc. Some cookie exchanges prefer from scratch cookies but for me, the focus is on getting in the kitchen to enjoy baking and having some fun together afterward.
I know how busy things get and store bought cookie dough is perfectly fine with me – the last thing I want to do is make busy folks feel guilty for taking a shortcut :).
Once the guests arrive, have a coffee bar and hot chocolate bar set up.
- If you have a Christmas tree or other holiday lights in your house, make sure they’re on, too! While guests are mingling and eating, I take everyone’s tray and go play elf as I divide the cookies up so that each tray holds a selection from the entire party, then I wrap them in clear cling wrap and place a big Christmas bow on top! This can also be done as a group activity, with everyone going around the table with their empty cookie platter and filling it, taking one or two cookies from each platter at a time, until all of the cookies are gone.
Great Party Favors!
- Have guests bring enough copies of their recipes for everyone, printed out on 8×10 sheets of paper. Before the party, I buy red and green three prong folders. When everyone arrives, we can lay out the recipes in stacks on a table along with a stack of folders and a three hole punch so that everyone can take home a mini cookbook of the party’s recipes!
When you have all of this squared away in your mind, be sure and share these instructions with your guests:
- BRING TWO PLATTERS – one with your cookies on it, and an empty one to fill with cookies to take home (your cookie platter will be the empty one when you leave the party).
- Copies of your cookie recipe for everyone printed out on an 8 x 10 sheet of paper.
- 6 cookies per person. Let your guests know how many people you are inviting, preferably no more than ten. This amount will allow enough cookies to be sampled and shared on cookie platters going home. Keep in mind that as the hostess, you will probably want to bake an extra two dozen or so of different varieties to fill in the gaps and allow for more party munching.
- Using ready made cookie dough, such as Pillsbury, is just fine! Have fun and get creative with it! In fact, you could host a cookie exchange exclusively with cookies made from store bought cookie dough and give out prizes to most creative use, most unique flavor, etc.
NOTE: So many children have very dangerous food allergies. If you have a girlfriend coming and you know one of her children is allergic to nuts, please let all of the guests know before they start their baking.
Now a question for you: Have you ever taken part in a cookie exchange?
Do you have any tips or tricks to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
HAVE A HAPPY COOKIE EXCHANGE AND A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Visit the rest of my friends for this wonderful Holiday Cookie Baking Week!
- Leslie from the Hungry Housewife shares great cookie and coffee pairings (I can get into cookies and coffee!)
- Shelly of Cookies and Cups talks Christmas Morning cookies
- Erin from $5 Dinners talks Christmas Cookies on a Budget
- Toni from the Happy Housewife talks Cookies on Christmas Eve
Disclosure: This Holiday Cookies Campaign is sponsored by the J.M. SMUCKER COMPANY, ©/® THE J.M. SMUCKER COMPANY. Opinions are my own and I have a VERY high opinion of cookies!